Carrdus School, near Banbury, Oxon
A small, intimate, 'family' oriented prep school, Carrdus School near Banbury is a good option for those who resolutely don't want to hot-house their kids.
CARRDUS SCHOOL, NEAR BANBURY
What? Where? Carrdus School sits in the countryside just above Banbury, a relatively young school at 60ish years old that runs from Overthorpe Hall, a handsome Victorian lodge that feels more like the home it was than a school it is – particularly as there is no uniform for the children. Carrdus is non-selective and teaches girls from 3-11 years and boys from 3-8 years, and with 118 pupils (and 40 staff!).
Compared to some private schools with their posh science blocks and golf courses, Carrdus’s facilities are more modest, though it’s hard to can’t complain too heavily about an outdoor heated swimming pool in a walled garden and a brand spanking new art studio and science lab.
The kids swim a brilliant four times a week from April to October, and sport is well catered for, with a modern multi-use sports hall with full size stage, netball and tennis courts, a cross country course, 11 acres of woodlands, plus regular access the full-size floodlit astro turf and new state-of-the-art drama studio at Tudor Hall.
Academically, there’s an ICT suite with touch-screen PCs, and library at the school, and big plans for science and technology – the headmaster has a science background and feels strongly that girls should be exposed to the sciences early (perhaps to avoid bunking off chemistry and biology in their teens like I did!).
What else? There’s good music provision, with 70% of kids learning an individual instrument at school and all instrumental requests catered for (go on, tell them your child plays the kora and see what happens). There are junior and senior choirs, wind band, string group and recorder group. SEN is well catered for with a dedicated SEN support within the school itself.
Academic results: Strong. All the kids last year went to their first choice schools (a wide variety including Tudor Hall, Rugby, Bloxham, Headington, Wycombe Abbey, Oxford High etc).
Although academically there are no worries – average class sizes of 15 mean your kids are getting a lot of attention – I really like the ethos of this school, the fact that Carrdus plainly states on its promotional material that ‘family life is sacrosanct – far more important than school – so there is no school on Saturdays and enough time in the evenings for home pursuits, including a realistic session of homework for older children.’ I really agree with that, there’s way too much shoving pressure down kids throats at way too young an age. Certainly there’s no hot-housing here, it’s a lovely, nurturing, family-style environment for the kids, a kind of everything in moderation approach.
The headmaster Ed moved here seven years ago from his Outstanding primary school in Great Tew and brought his deputy Mark along with him. Ed’s wife Georgina Way is the Head of Learning Support (SEN), and Mark’s three children are at the school, so there is this caring, family feel that pervades. The children are extremely comfortable chatting to both the teachers, and when I entered a classroom with Mark, his son just ran up to him and gave him a hug which was lovely and indicative of the feel at the school.
Probably its biggest quirk is this extremely homely approach. I was very attracted to it, as I can see how it would allow kids to blossom but of course it’s not for all children – those parents whose kids are ‘larger than life’ characters might want the scope to ‘grow into’ a bigger school. Academically, the day I came, the kids were doing their weekly Big Write to develop their written skills – not in itself unusual, but they were doing it to Mozart in the background with lights dimmed and they are also known to do it to candlelight and lava lamps so the school is quite willing to try different approaches to get the most out of the children.
Fees: Very good value – less than £10,000 per year, so around 33% less than the average private school. It’s worth noting that there are specialist teachers from Reception upwards for music, sport, IT, French, drama, art, swimming, English and maths included in this price.
Wrap around care
The usual school day runs from 8.45am to 3.40pm but kids can be dropped off at 8.15 into the main lobby hall of the house (above) where they can read and chat and stay warm by the log fire. There are the usual array of after-school clubs (art, karate, rollerskating, cookery etc) or TeaTimers club – imagine beanbags, old-fashioned games, crumpets and sandwiches – until 5.30pm. There is provision for the older children to do their prep in a quiet side room.
The nursery is very well-equipped, with the usual freeflow indoor/outdoor areas, and plenty of love and attention for the kids. By the time the kids make it to Reception, they’re paired up with Year 6s assigned as their buddies, reading to them, playing with them and supporting them.
Word on the ground
Nurturing, friendly, effective. The parents I talked to love the fact that the children are allowed to stay young here and can roam the woodlands, and grab stilts, hoops and play-stuff from the shed as they wish. That was definitely my sense of the school too. I could definitely see that my kids would thrive here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children who prefer a smaller, more intimate and ‘family’ oriented school. Parents who care about the academics but resolutely don’t want to hot-house their kids or force them to grow up too fast. Anyone looking for good value education – at 33% less than most private schools it may open up an option not previously thought available to some families.
Not for: Those who like the ‘grandness’ of country private schools. The main building is attractive with the school rooms looking out onto the garden, but it’s essentially a house and feels rather compact. Kids with ‘large’ personalities might do better at a bigger school with more of a pecking order. And it didn’t bother me particularly, but you can hear the motorway in the distance when the wind blows the wrong way.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Friday 11 May, and as ever let me know your thoughts.
Carrdus School, Overthorpe Hall, Banbury, Oxon, OX17 2BS. Tel: 01295 263733.